America has always been a hotbed of creative activity in both the arts and sciences. It is unsurprising that one discipline that is equal part art and science has also been spearheaded almost entirely by Americans. The architectural schools that arose throughout the 20th century, with the advent of the skyscraper, came to be completely dominated by U.S. architects and structural engineers. However, none of this would have been possible without the American Institute of Architects.
Bringing order out of chaos
Prior to 1857, anyone in the United States could refer to themselves as a professional architect and no one would have any way to verify if they were, in fact, qualified to ply that trade. It was for this reason that in that same year, many of New York’s top architects got together and formed the professional institution for their trade, one of the first such professional institutions in the country at that time. The ultimate vision of these early pioneers of their industry was to provide a level of rigor to both standards and ethics, ensuring the public that architects were every bit as meritorious a collection of professionals as lawyers or doctors.
The organization they formed proved instrumental in the rising dominance of America in the design and construction trades over the following decades. With the invention of the elevator and the introduction of steel-framed buildings, it soon became possible for the build environment to reach towards the skies. The so-called skyscraper became a stable of cityscapes from Chicago to New York. This increasing reliance on vertical behemoths would forever alter the ways in which urban Americans lived and worked, contributing to the rapidly expanding U.S. economy and the country’s global economic domination.
Soon, many other Western countries were copying the methods and designs of the American city. Although architectural styles like Beaux Arts and Neoclassicism were not invented in the United States, they soon found their stride there. The U.S. is still home to the vast majority of the most exemplary specimens of the various schools of architecture from the 19th and 20th centuries. This incredible output and harnessing of the country’s genius was largely a product of having a strong professional organization that gave the architectural industry the imprimatur of an established and revered trade.
Today, the American Institute of Architects is headed by renowned biographer and architect Robert Ivy. Under his leadership, the organization continues to design the future.